Seven Noteworthy Artworks Sold at Christie’s HK$1.6 Billion Evening Sales

Christie’s kicked off its Hong Kong auction week with an impressive, glamorous night. The auction house presented about 70 pieces works of art across three evening sales, 17 of them were sold for prices higher than HK$10m, including two headline-grabbing artworks – Sanyu’s Five Nudes (sold for HK$303m/ US$38.72m) and Kim Whan-Ki’s 05-IV-71 #200 (Universe) (sold for HK$102m/ US$13m). The three sales altogether brought in HK$1.6 billion (US$204.4m), a record high for the auction house’s evening sales in Asia. Here is an overview of seven noteworthy artworks sold throughout the night

1. Sanyu’s Five Nudes sold for HK$303m, a record auction for the ‘Chinese Matisse’

Five Nudes, Sanyu’s largest painting featuring female nudes, was sold for HK$303m (US$38.72m) at Christie’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Hong Kong after an intense 10-minute bidding war. The painting set a new auction record for the artist barely one month since its previous one, indicating a shift in the Asian market from the enthusiasm for the abstract master Zao Wou-Ki to the rising popularity of Sanyu.

Sanyu (1895-1966) was hailed as ‘the Chinese Matisse’. Sanyu’s paintings began with floral motifs and culminated with female nudes. In the 1920s, he went to the city with fellow Chinese art students – among them Lin Fengmian, Wu Dayu and Xu Beihong. Together they wrote a glorious chapter for Chinese émigré artists in France. By the 1940s and 1950s, Sanyu had become revered in Paris, by Wu Guanzhong, Zhang Daqian, Zao Wou-Ki, and Chu Teh-Chun, among others. Measuring 120 x 175cm, Five Nudes is not only the largest female nude painting Sanyu ever created, but also the one featuring the greatest number of figures within a single composition.

The painting went up for auction at Ravenel Hong Kong in 2011 and sold for HK$128m (NT$475m/ US$16m). Not only did it break the auction record for Sanyu, but also set the new auction record for the world’s most expensive Chinese oil painting. Five Nudes held the artist’s record for more than eight years until the record was recently replaced by the HK$198m (US$25.3m) Nu. In less than one month, Five Nudes regained the title as Sanyu's most expensive artwork after selling for HK$303m (US$38.72m), which further pushed the price up to the benchmark of HK$300m and beyond.

Full article: HK$303m Record-Setting Sanyu’s Five Nudes Reigns Supreme in Hong Kong Auction 2019


2. HK$102m Kim Whan-Ki’s 05-IV-71 #200 (Universe) became the most expensive Korean work of art
Spanning 254 x 254cm, 05-IV-71 #200 (Universe) is the only diptych painted by Kim Whan-Ki. It was sold for HK$102m (US$13m) after premium, exceeding its estimate HK$48m-62m, and became the most expensive Korean work of art.

Before the sale started, some people expressed concern about the estimate being a little bit too high given that Korean art has just started to make its way into the mainstream. But it turned out all the risks that Christie’s took has paid off. The painting triggered a prolonged bidding battle that lasted nearly 10 minutes. The record-breaking moment excited many Korean reporters and journalists in the saleroom, who were probably here for this painting.

In spite of the rising popularity of Korean culture, Korean art is still trying to make its way into the mainstream in the global art market. The encouraging sale result of Kim Whan-Ki's diptych is undoubtedly a strong boost to Korean art’s prominence in the art and auction market.

Full article: Korean Wave in Saleroom: HK$102m Kim Whan-Ki’s Diptych Becomes Most Expensive Korean Work of Art

3. Yoshitomo Nara’s Can't Wait 'til the Night Comes Sold for HK$92.87m and became the second most expensive work of art by the artis

Yoshitomo Nara became the most expensive Japanese artist after his monumental painting Knife Behind Back was sold for HK$195.7m (US$25m) this October. Christie’s Hong Kong hoped to continue the momentum by presenting another masterpiece by Nara as a focal point of this season sale. Can’t Wait ‘til the Night Comes was offered in its stand-alone sale, estimated at HK$80m. Despite carrying high expectation before the sale, the painting was hammered down at its low estimate HK$80m and sold for HK$92.87m after premium.

With Nara’s growing popularity among Asian collectors, works of art by the artist are highly sought-after in the market. For example, a HK$100 bill with doodles by Yoshitomo Nara was sold for a stunning HK$450,000 at auction this October. Therefore, many believed that the final price of Can't Wait 'til the Night Comes would very likely go beyond the estimate and reach the HK$100m benchmark.

Still, there is no need to rush to any conclusion about the craze for Yoshitomo Nara is cooling down. We have to take into account that, before Knife Behind Back was sold for a whopping HK$195.7m, the previous auction record for the artist was only about HK$30m. When you compare the two numbers together, the HK$92.87m fetched by Can't Wait 'til the Night is definitely not a disappointing one. In fact, it is the second highest price realised by Yoshitomo Nara’s artworks.

Zao Wou-Ki’s 24.12.59

Zao Wou-Ki’s 27.03.70 from the collection of I.M. Pei

Zao Wou-Ki and I.M. Pei were good friends

4. Five of Zao Wou-Ki’s paintings brought in a total of HK$230m as the market for Zao’s works returned to rationality

In the past few auctions, we saw how Zao Wou-Ki’s paintings fetched jaw-droppingly high prices in salerooms one after another. It seems that the market has returned to rationality this season while remains to be a strong one. Five of Zao Wou-Ki paintings were sold for a total of HK$230m (US$29.4m), accounted for 26% of the sale total at 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale. All five works have made their ways to the top ten most expensive lots sold in the sale.

The most valuable one among all five is 24.12.59, which was sold for HK$87.2m (US$11.14m) to the client of Francis Belin, President of Christie’s Asia. 24.12.59 was created in 1959, a critical year when Zao was preparing to his ‘Hurricane period’ of the 1960s. It can be seen as the most important work in this transition from the 1950s to the ‘60s. In 24.12.59 , Zao was finally able to completely reconcile the traditional vertical and horizontal compositions of the East and he West, and in so doing, opened up an entirely new territory for the numerous landscapes that would come later in his hurricane period.

Zao Wou-Ki’s 27.03.70 from the collection of the celebrated architect I.M Pei. During an interview with The Value, Li Chung Pei recounted the friendship between I.M. Pei and Zao Wou-Ki, as well as the story of the present painting. “You can see the very strong abstract expressionist character, which is in the fluid, the active brushstroke, in the composition of the picture. He had many pictures of great quality. But this one is very atmospheric. The colours tend to dark, except for that bright area. I think my parents really like those colours. It was in a very special place in their living room. We didn’t have a very large house, but the picture did occupy an important place in their home,” said Li Chung Pei.

Full article: Li Chung Pei Recounts Friendship Between I.M. Pei and Zao Wou-Ki

5. A new auction record was set for Eddie Martinez, whose previous record was set four times in 2019 alone

Known for his energetic use of line and manipulation of colour in his paintings and sculpture, Eddie Martinez draws inspiration from a wide range of influences including popular urban culture, Abstract Expressionism and Surrealism. The Brooklyn-based artist creates paintings on canvas that retain the rough, expressionistic lines and bold colours of street art.

This spring season, the auction record for Eddie Martinez was refreshed three times all in one sale at Phillips Hong Kong, with the highest one at HK$2.5m. The record was later replaced by Rumble that sold for HK$5.2m at Sotheby’s Hong Kong last month. In less than one month, Eddie Martinez's large-scale painting High Flying Bird fetched HK$15.7m (US$2m), making him a member of the million HK dollar club.

Liu Ye’s Red No.2

Liu Ye’s Blue

Liu Ye’s Leave Me in the Dark (S)

6. All three Liu Ye’s paintings were hammered down for prices exceeding estimates

Liu Ye is considered a leading figure of Chinese contemporary art. Born in 1964, Liu Ye grew up in an artistic family: his father wrote children’s fairy tales and his mother was a language teacher. Liu Ye’s paintings are simple yet succinct summaries of the issues he faces in everyday life.

Three of his paintings offered were all hammered down for prices beyond estimates

  • Red No.2 (195 x 195 cm) sold for HK$23.52m
  • Blue (100 x 80cm) sold for HK$17.52m
  • Leave Me in Dark (S) (80 x 60 cm) sold for HK$20.52m

The artist’s red painting series have been highly coveted by collectors. Now it seems like the market has developed a fondness for his blue paintings as well.

7. A Stylish Crossover: Takashi Murakami & Pharrell Williams’ sculpture sold for HK$21.72m

In recent years we see that crossover retail seems to be the success formula for driving skyrocketing sales in the world of fashion and sneakers, for example Supreme x Rimowa, Uniqlo x Kaws, etc. The art market seems to have caught on the fad as Christie’s presented Takashi Murakami and Pharrell Williams’ The Simple Things sculpture in the evening sale in Hong Kong.

Back in 2007, MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) in Los Angeles honoured Murakami with a major retrospective, along with a nice dinner party where Takashi Murakami met Pharrell. They hit it off right off the bat and Pharrell even flew out to Tokyo to discuss his artistic vision with his prospective partner the following year. Murakami incorporated Pharrell’s ideas with his own, giving birth to The Simple Things. The sculpture made its debut at Art Basel 2009 and was reportedly sold for US$2m within the first thirty minutes. It ended up in the private collection ever since.

The bidding of The Simple Things started at HK$15m and was at first being bought-in after failing to meet the reserve price. The auctioneer later reopened the bidding and sold the sculpture to a gentleman in the room for a hammer price of HK$18m, which is HK$21.72m after premium.

Full article: Takashi Murakami & Pharrell Williams’ US$2.6 Million Sculpture is an Art of Extreme Extravagance

Top ten artworks sold in the evening sales

Sanyu. Five Nudes

Lot no.: 7
Created in: 1950-1959
Signed lower right Yu in Chinese and SANYU in French
Size: 120 x 172cm
Provenance (consolidated by The Value):

  • Hôtel Drouot, Paris, France, 1966
  • Yves Bideau, Paris, France
  • Jean-Claude Riedel, Paris, France
  • Eric Edwards, Paris, France
  • Anon. Sale, Sotheby’s Taipei, 17 October 1993, Lot 18
  • Yageo Collection, Taiwan
  • Anon. Sale, Ravenel Hong Kong, 30 May 2011, Lot 19 (sold for HK$128,320,000, the then auction record for world’s most expensive Chinese oil painting)
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$250,000,000
Hammer price: HK$266,000,000
Price realised: HK$303,985,000

Kim Whan-Ki (1931-1974). 05-IV-71 #200 (Universe) | Most expensive Korean Work of Art

Lot no.: 17
Created in: 1971
Size: 254 x 127cm (each panel); 254 x 254 (overall)
Provenance: Purchased directly from the artist by Matthew Kim and Chae Kum Kim
Estimate: HK$48,000,000 - 62,000,000
Hammer price: HK$88,000,000
Price realised: HK$101,955,000

Yoshitomo Nara (B. 1959). Can't Wait 'til the Night Comes
Acrylic on canvas

Lot no.: 54A
Created in: 2012
Size: 193.2 x 183.2cm

  • Blum and Poe, Los Angeles, United States
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$80m
Hammer price: HK$80,000,000
Price realised: HK$92,875,000

Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013). 24.12.59
oil on canvas

Lot no.: 15
Created in: 1959
Size: 160.7 x 111.8cm

  • Galerie de France, Paris
  • Galerie Dresdnere, Montreal, Canada, in 1960s
  • Private Collection, Toronto, Canada
  • Acquired from the above by the previous owner
  • Anon. Sale, Christie’s London, 23 June 2005, Lot 41
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$80,000,000 - 120,000,000
Hammer price: HK$75,000,000
Price realised: HK$87,200,000

Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013). 27.03.70

Lot no.: 16
Created in: 1971
Size: 130 x 195cm

  • Acquired by the late owners in the early 1970s

Estimate: HK$38,000,000 - 48,000,000
Hammer price: HK$41,000,000
Price realised: HK$48,610,000

Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013). Cité se Réveille (Rising City)
Oil on canvas

Lot no.: 14
Created in: 1956
Size: 65 x 100.2cm

  • Anon. Sale, Christie’s Taipei, 23 April 2000, Lot 14
  • Private Collection, Asia
  • Anon. Sale, Christie’s Hong Kong, 27 May 2007, Lot 228
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$30,000,000 - 40,000,000
Hammer price: HK$29,000,000
Price realised: HK$34,925,000

Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013). Restauration du vieux château (Restoration of the old castle)
Oil on canvas

Lot no.: 34
Created in: 1952
Size: 65.3 x 81.2cm

  • Private Collection, Europe
  • Private Collection, Asia

Estimate: HK$22,000,000 - 28,000,000
Hammer price: HK$28,000,000
Price realised: HK$33,725,000

Chu Teh-Chun (1920-2014). Une belle journée (A Beautiful Day)
oil on canvas (diptych)

Lot no.: 19
Created in: 1982
Size: 162 x 260cm

  • Anon. Sale, Christie’s Hong Kong, 26 May 2012, lot 2905
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$25,000,000 - 35,000,000
Hammer price: HK$25,000,000
Price realised: HK$30,125,000

Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013). 10.03.85
Oil on canvas

Lot no.: 35
Created in: 1985
Size: 97 x 195cm
Provenance: Private Collection, Europe
Estimate: HK$20,000,000 - 30,000,000
Hammer price: HK$21,500,000
Price realised: HK$25,925,000

Liu Ye (b. 1964.). Red No. 2
Acrylic on canvas

Lot no.: 40
Created in: 2003
Size: 195 x 195cm

  • Schoeni Art Gallery, Hong Kong
  • Anon. Sale, Christie’s HK, 28 May 2016, lot 61
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$12,000,000 - 18,000,000
Hammer price: HK$18,500,000
Price realised: HK$23,525,000

Auction summary

Auction house: Christie’s Hong Kong
Sale date: 23 November 2019

Sale: 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale
Lots offered: 54 
Sold: 44
Sold by lots: 81%
Sale total: HK$880,992,500

Sale: Can't Wait 'til the Night Comes: A Masterpiece by Yoshitomo Nara, 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale
Lots offered: 1
Sold: 1
Sale total: HK$92,875,000

Sale: HI-LITE Evening Sale
Lots offered: 16
Sold: 16
Sold by lots: 100%
Sale total: HK$88,735,000